Kansas schools plan to reopen in August with changes, budget cut concerns

Capitol Bureau

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) — The Kansas State Board of Education is planning to reopen Kansas public schools in August. But, according to the board, this means measures must be put in place to keep both students and staff healthy, and to prepare for another possible COVID-19 outbreak.

More than 700 volunteers, made up of educators, administrators, parents and community members, are creating recommendations for school districts on how best to reopen schools while still maintaining a normal school environment.

“We’re going to give guidance to the schools,” explained Ann E. Mah, Kansas State Board of Education member. “Like here’s the best way to clean a bus, here’s what we think will work to keep your classrooms clean, here’s how kids might pass between classes that would keep them safer, here’s what you might do on the playground.”

This also includes guidance for making sure students are on track when it comes to education.

“We know that when these kids come back in August, they’re going to be all over the board because some really took to remote learning and some didn’t get it at all,” added Mah.

In the end, the decisions will be left up to the school districts, including the decision to close schools should another wave of the coronavirus hit. The board’s recommendations will include detailed plans on how to transition back to remote learning if needed. Additionally, parents can choose to have their students continue at-home learning, even if the school buildings reopen.

“We want to be sure we provide good, viable alternatives to allow the education to continue for those students,” said Kathy Busch, Chair of the Kansas State Board of Education.

In March, when Governor Laura Kelly closed all public schools, the Kansas State Department of Education had approximately 48 hours to provide schools with remote learning recommendations and guidance. Now the board, along with the volunteers, are writing more detailed recommendations. This includes guidance for completely remote learning or blended learning, where a portion of students are in school and the rest are learning from home.

Governor Kelly has the ability to close schools statewide once again, but under the new coronavirus bill passed by lawmakers, she must get permission to do so from the Board of Education.

The main goal, according to the board, is to get kids back to school in August.

“It’s important for our kids to be with our teachers, it’s important for our kids to be with one another, it’s important for that learning to go on, not only the educational learning but also the social and emotional learning,” said Busch.

The Board of Education is also drafting budget recommendations for the Governor. Kansas is expecting a $653 million budget shortfall in fiscal year 2021, which begins July 1, 2020. Kansas K-12 education makes up more than half of the state’s budget, so education leaders are preparing for funding cuts.

The Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the state must provide a certain amount of education funding, therefore certain items cannot be cut from the budget. This includes school lunch and breakfast money and special education funding, among others. But things like after school programs and other state-funded programs can be cut.

“One of the things Kansans are very proud of is the quality of our public education,” said Busch. “So we feel like the Governor will probably do everything she can to protect what’s covered under the Supreme Court case.”

Governor Kelly has been referred to as the ‘Education Governor’, but she has said that she would not rule out cuts to education funding if it was necessary.

“The Governor is very creative and I don’t know anybody who knows the budget better than she does,” said Mah. “So, I’m sure she’ll have some ways to deal with this.”

The Federal Government is giving Kansas schools $85 million from the CARES Act to be used as reimbursement for coronavirus-related expenses. $10 million of that money goes specifically to special education.

The recommendations from the board will be sent to school districts in early July.

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